Sarasota: The Sequel!
At the risk of stating the obvious, Florida is a beach lover's paradise. But this little patch of coastline is even more special - Siesta, also known as Crescent Beach, was awarded "The World's Finest, Whitest Sand™" at The Great International Beach Challenge, 1987. It has since won numerous other awards for 'best beach in America', most recently in 2017.
During the cold, dark days of a Scottish winter, it's the warm waters and powder sugar sand of Siesta Key that I escape to in my mind. Walking this 3 miles of shoreline may only take an hour at city pace, but you're going to want to slow right down and soak it all in, so be sure to carry your sunscreen for liberal applications en route. That overhead sun can be ferocious!
With sand like this, it's no surprise the Crystal Classic International Master Sand Sculpting Competition is held at Siesta Beach every year, so if you're in the area in November, it's definitely worth a look. Here are my favourite shots from my visit in 2015:
Where to Shop
Ok, so you've swapped that telltale 'snowbird' pallor for a gentle, sun kissed glow. Now you're ready to hit the shops for some new threads!
University Town Centre is an enormous development just off I-75, on University Parkway, and a fairly recent addition to the area. The Mall there is chock-full of familiar, popular brands, department stores and chain restaurants. But for Brits abroad, one of the big attractions of the US is the outlet shopping! When it comes to outlets and sales, nobody does it better! I joyfully learned that "no sale is ever final" with an extra discount often added at checkout! As a result, I stocked up for years on amazingly priced American brands that you couldn't get at home, or if you could, you'd pay a premium for them. So if it's value you're after, here are some of my local favourites:
Miromar Outlets, Estero (1.5 hour drive)
- Neiman Marcus Last Call
- Bloomingdale's Outlet Store
- Cole Haan
- J Crew
If you're looking for something a touch more original than a big brand name, then there are a number of boutiques and fun, funky areas to check out.
Ana Molinari is a salon, spa and boutique on South Palm Avenue, Sarasota, with a second location on Main St, Lakewood Ranch.
This Gracia skirt, purchased there, is a striking, rainbow addition to my colourful collection!
La Femme Fatale also on South Palm, offers on-site alterations and is fabulous for best dressed guest looks and fun, original separates.
I simply couldn't resist the most fabulous shoulders neck and hemline of this Gracia dress.
Main Street is home to many restaurants, boutiques and one-offs, so it's worth walking up one side and down the other to ensure you don't miss anything. If you're in rush, though, don't miss Lotus for casual designer separates, Main Street Traders for a fun mix of homewares and clothing and the wonderful Artisanal Cheese Company where we picked up the best French brie we'd ever tasted (yum)! After all that, you'll be glad of a cold beer at O'Leary's!
Close to downtown is the historic, Burns Court. Whether you're just window shopping or on a mission to spend, there are some unusual, one-off stores that are worth a visit - check out L. Boutique, it has a spa attached and a range of clothing from beachy basics to ballgowns.
Besides downtown Sarasota, there are some other little gems that are worth seeking out. Here are some of my favourite spots to browse, shop and grab a coffee or gelato:
Favourite Foodie Finds
Being a peninsula, with miles of coastline, Florida is awash with excellent seafood restaurants. There are genuinely too many to name, so it is worth doing your own research, but here are my go-to, never-been-disappointed-by seafood faves:
Pro tip: CALL AHEAD or be prepared to wait an hour! These are so good they're stacked most nights!
If you enjoy a large side of style with your favourite food, then these modern, classy options will serve you well!
Pro tip: don't miss the Shrimp and Scallops at Shore and the Raw Chocolate Tart at Lila is on another level!
Music Lovers' Musts
My family and I are big live music lovers, in fact Mr O and I have been known to gig together a little, so it's no surprise we love finding cool, music venues and acts, both local and well-known, to inject some serious after-dark fun into our visits.
Clearly music, like food, is incredibly subjective so it's worth checking local what's on guides to find exactly what you enjoy. But if you like the blues, the jazz standards done right with some of those that played with the greats, big name favourites or if you just want to hear something fresh, local and new, you won't go wrong with these:
So you might be wondering why I haven't covered "Where to stay" in this guide. Well that's because, as I said in Part I, Sarasota is a home-from-home for me, so I enjoy spending time at my dad's when I'm there!
I hope you've enjoyed this whirlwind tour - let me know what you like best in the comments!